US test reactor programme moves ahead

24 September 2020

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has approved Critical Decision 1 for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), meaning the project can now move to the engineering design phase. DOE has requested USD295 million for FY 2021 for the one-of-a-kind facility that would support research and development of innovative nuclear energy and other technologies.

VTR (Image: INL)

The VTR addresses a long-standing gap in research infrastructure in the USA, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said.

"We have not had a fast neutron spectrum test facility for decades. Many of the new reactor designs under development in the United States require this sort of long-term testing capability. Not only will VTR support the research and development of much-needed clean energy technologies, but it is key to revitalising our nuclear industry, which has long been the model for safe operations and security for the world."

Critical Decision 1, known as 'Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range', is the second step in DOE's process to review and manage research infrastructure projects. As part of Critical Decision 1, federal committees have reviewed the conceptual design, schedule and cost range, and analysed potential alternatives. DOE's issuance of a Notice of Intent to prepare the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the reactor, published last month, is also part of Critical Decision 1 activities. The VTR project will now move to the engineering design phase "as soon as Congress appropriates funding", DOE said.

The Idaho National Laboratory-led programme to provide a reactor-based source of the fast neutrons needed to test advanced reactor technology, fuels and related materials was authorised under the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2018 and launched in March 2019. INL has selected GEH's PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor design as a basis for the VTR.

Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, said the approval of Critical Decision 1 establishes a "solid foundation" upon which the design phase can begin.

"We have repeatedly heard from industry and other stakeholders that the United States needs a fast neutron scientific user facility to maintain our global leadership in nuclear energy. This decision puts us firmly on the path toward achieving that goal," she said.

The DOE will make a final decision on the design, technology selection and location for VTR following the completion of the EIS and Record of Decision, which is expected in late 2021.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News